I love checking things off the ‘ol bucket list. One of those items that have been on the list unchecked for far too long is visiting Glacier National Park. In this post, let’s ride Going to the Sun Road by Motorcycle.
At the end of the summer, I rode my Triumph Tiger 620 miles from Seattle to take this ride and I hope you enjoy the views and twists as much as I have.
I’ll show you the views, the stops and other things you should know before you ride. This road trip begins at the West Glacier entrance and ends at St. Mary Visitor Station. Technically, I ride there and back, so I get two takes at the road.
Going to the Sun Road is 51 miles long.
The speed limit is 45 on the lower sections and only 25 through the highest portions, also known as the Alpine section. Although, I didn’t see any rangers on the road to bust you.
It will take around 2 hours to make it through the road with no stops, although I don’t know why anyone would do that.
Gas up before you go if needed – no gas is available on the road.
Bring some snacks, food options are limited.
First things first, we’re going to need a photo at the Glacier National Park sign! Otherwise, how would you believe that I was actually here?
Going to the Sun Road by Motorcycle
Going to the Sun Road begins at the Apgar Visitor Center. This small-ish building serves as an introduction to Glacier National Park. Learn about the flora, fauna, study your map, or buy a trinket. Fill up your water bottle here and grab some snacks if needed.
Lake McDonald Lodge
The next major stop along the way is the Lake McDonald Lodge. Here you can explore Lake McDonald Lodge, have a warm meal or book a Lake McDonald Boat Cruise.
You can get a good look at the famous busses of the Glacier National Park Bus Tours here at Lake McDonald Lodge. This rear-view of the bus is something you’re likely to become accustomed to on Going to the Sun Road.
These things are everywhere and they are not quick about it. If you’re behind one, forget about hitting the twisties of Going to the Sun Road. That is unless you can, ahem, find your way around them.
And of course, take a gander at that lovely lake. I’ll be on that boat later for the sunset cruise.
Avalanche Creek offers popular hiking via two trails. You can even take advantage of this swimming hole on the westbound side of the road, not far from a parking area.
The West Tunnel
This 197 foot long tunnel features two arched openings that let you look out to Heaven’s Peak and the Upper McDonald Creek valley while on the move.
Choosing to ride Going to the Sun road by motorcycle pays off once you reach the Alpine Section. The uphill twisties start at a hairpin curve called “The Loop.” After this, the road gets tight with no “legal” options to pass until about 25 miles later.
If you need to make a move, say, to get around a big red bus, there are a few straight stretches where you could do this on a motorcycle. Don’t lollygag; you can enjoy miles of open road once you get around.
Going to the Sun road, or the “Transmountain Road” as it was called during planning, was originally supposed to have 15 switchbacks (a road plan by George Goodwin, an NPS engineer) on the way to Logan Pass. Luckily player 2 (Tom Vint) entered the game with a simpler design; a road with only one switchback, allowing for better views of the park.
The Alpine Section
Notice the six percent climb between the Loop and Logan Pass. During the 1920s, a six percent grade was the maximum recommended grade because a car had to shift down to second gear at a seven percent grade.
Oh, the views! The curves!
So I took a little time to snap some photos of me and my motorcycle. It’s pretty smoky in the park, but it’s still beautiful.
Haystack Falls and Weeping Wall
Haystack falls drops through Going to the Sun road through an arch – a little preview for what’s to come at Triple Arch. Near here you can also see 492 ft. Bird Woman Falls. Unfortunately for me, the view was just too smoky.
Big Bend offers a large parking area where you can pull off and enjoy the view down the valley or up the hill to Bishop’s Cap. If you are stuck behind a bus, this is likely it’s first stop after The Loop.
Pretty sweet moto boots, huh? Now lets enjoy the view down the valley to Mount Oberlin and Mount Cannon.
The Triple Arches help to highlight the engineering feat that is Going to the Sun Road.
It’s easiest to get a shot of the Triple Arches going westbound on Going to the Sun Road. There aren’t any pullouts on the eastbound side of the road. See my pullout utilization below:
Pause for Construction near Oberlin Bend
If you’re faced with construction, a long line of cars is a great opportunity to jump to the front of the pack (safely) so that you can find some open road. Once the big excavator gets by, if it is clear to move up, it is smart to do so.
A brief stop also gives you a chance to take a breather. Look around. Peer over that cliff. Enjoy the scenery at every opportunity.
At last; the highest point of the road. We’ve also hit the halfway point of Going to the Sun Road and of the North American continent. Time to take another sign photo.
The East Side Tunnel
An stand-out engineering marvel, the East Side Tunnel is 408 feet of 1930’s brawn. Workers on the East Side Tunnel could bore only 5 feet 4 inches every 24 hours. They couldn’t get powered equipment to this area, so all rock was excavated by hand.
Through the tunnel, you’ll notice a pullout. From here, you can take a look back to Logan Pass, see a bonus roadside waterfall and, in the distance, an even more majestic waterfall. These quick pullouts are filled with cars and people on busy days, making it even more of a draw to ride Going to the Sun Road by motorcycle.
Your next stop is going to be Jackson Glacier Overlook; that is unless it is as smoky for you as it was for me.
St. Mary Lake
After Siyeh bend, the road mellows. You pass through fire-ravaged forest as you wind your way down the foot of Going to the Sun Mountain to St. Mary Lake. Below is a shot of the lake along with Wild Goose Island.
St. Mary Visitor Center
The end of the road is the St. Mary Visitor Center. The standard displays are here plus a looping video about the park. Or just do what I did – take a drink, a leak (TMI?), and then get back out there for another rip westbound on Going to the Sun road by motorcycle.
Eat my dust, big red bus.
A few more facts:
1910: Glacier National Park established
1918: First road plan created
1921: Funding from Congress
1924: Funding increased
1932: The first automobile crosses the park on the new road
1938: Sections paved
1952: Road fully paved
About Going to the Sun Road by Motorcycle
The normal bonuses of riding a motorcycle in crowded spots goes here, too. Front row parking at the lodges, easy parking at overlooks, nimbleness in traffic, etc. The main bonus is that your views are completely unobstructed.
Experiencing Glacier National Park and Going to the Sun Road by motorcycle is the only way to see it. The road is awe-inspiring and even scary (I mean exhilarating) at times; both feelings amplified by doing it on a motorcycle.
The road is only fully open in the summer, so be sure to check the Going to the Sun road status website for up-to-the-minute road information.
Thanks for the great post, information and beautiful pictures. I did this run in 1982 and will be returning this year ,2018.
Fantastic. Enjoy the ride and thanks for reading!
Great pictures! Very scenic! Looks like a great ride, would loved to have been with you!